Last year, on the 13th of March, the Premier League announced the postponement of their fixtures due to Covid-19. Not long after, the English Football League and lower tiers of football followed suit. Of course, with all that was happening in the world, this did feel inevitable. Football leagues across Europe and the world were being postponed and even voided in some cases. We were about to enter a period without football, without the match day experience, and without sports-driven entertainment. Me, a religious football fan, started wondering what on earth people do on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. So, when the most popular sport in the country stops, what’s the reaction of those who live by and for it? Surprisingly enough, football fans did what they do best: the short-term fall and suspension of football actually made way for clubs and fans to turn their attention to their community.
We often overlook the cohesion and unity within football clubs and their communities. Why? Well, when football is on, the spectacle and media attention tends to be on the players and the result, right? But when football stopped, clubs up and down the country no longer had a match day. Behind the scramble of online training and uncertainty, clubs and fans now had a responsibility to care for their communities more than ever. Football clubs and their communities have always offered fans, and those in the local area, a sense of connection and identity. They can transcend geographical boundaries, facilitate togetherness, and carry out acts of care on both a small and large scale. However, communities emerge in numerous ways, so why are football related communities unique? And what are the acts of care I’m referring to?
Even with the absence of games, football clubs and their communities weren’t disbanded, and this is what I believe makes them unique. The loss of the match day didn’t mean a loss of community. Instead, clubs and their respective fans came together to support their community. The removal of something so centred around routine and livelihood, which you’d think would see a community disperse, has actually led us to see the communities that exist within.
In the midst of the pandemic and lockdown, we saw football related communities carrying out acts in the name of social solidarity on numerous occasions. This wasn’t exclusive to club membership, fanhood, or whatever — it was help and care on a community level. AFC Wimbledon launched an initiative to have volunteers drop off essential items to those who need it most; Birmingham City worked in partnership with the Birmingham Children’s Trust to support the distribution of food and other vital products to families, carers and young adults; Norwich City Community Foundation helped in the development of an app to engage with schools; and the list goes on. To put this in perspective every single championship club, 24, launched at least 3 initiatives to support their local community. These included phone calls for those experiencing loneliness, wellbeing programmes, and assisting the NHS. No matter what league, team, or community — the absence of the match day didn’t halt acts of care and goodwill.
But, how much of this can be attributed to the pandemic? Consider this: football clubs and fans have been looking after their communities years before the pandemic. So, has there really been a revival of community initiatives from clubs and fans in local areas? The absence of the match day may have meant clubs had more time and resources to focus on supporting their community. However, with that, the absence of the match day has also left clubs in severe difficulties financially. Nonetheless, in a time of need and concern, clubs and fans showed up for their communities.
And now the sport is back, our attention reverts back to the match day and the spectacle. We go back to talking about the matches, players, and results. But, behind the scenes, considering fans aren’t allowed back, the community work continues, and long may it do so. However, once we do approach a sense of normality, it is important that football clubs and fans continue to care for their community. The work done during lockdown by clubs, fans, and volunteers reflects just how important football’s role is in caring for local communities. These efforts mustn’t be lost. As soon as football returned, the common topic was how ‘football without fans’ is affecting the sport. Instead, we should flip this to how ‘fans without football’ care for their community, and not allow the altruism of football clubs, fans, and volunteers to become clouded by the spectacle of the game.
Written by Robert Fletcher. Edited by Aada Orava.
The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Robert Fletcher — not TEDxWarwick.